May 10, 2011


The Perfect Storm in Af-Pak (Shuja Nawaz, May 9, 2011, National Interest)

Until recently, Pakistan’s military has made deals with Haqqani and adopted a laissez-faire policy, allowing his forces to use North Waziristan as a sanctuary. In return, Haqqani has not attacked the army directly and has also allowed rations to be supplied to Pakistan’s border posts—border posts that are designed to interdict movement across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The irony and contradiction of all this is glaring. What use are the posts if the people whom they are supposed to monitor and stop are the ones that allow the posts to be supplied?

Times may be changing. There are some reports from regimental-level officers in the territory that Haqqani forces or their allies have given sanctuary and support to escapees from South Waziristan, escapees who have attacked and killed army and Frontier Corps soldiers periodically. If true, the army may have good reason to want to push Haqqani back into Afghanistan. Thus far Pakistan has held off from moving against Haqqani for two reasons: first, his perceived usefulness as a bargaining chip in ensuring that there is Pashtun representation in an Afghan government after coalition forces withdraw; second, Pakistan does not have the force needed to effectively mount a cleanup operation. But as Pakistan talks directly with the Afghan authorities and reaches an understanding of what the shape of a Kabul government will be in years to come, it may find Haqqani more of a liability than an asset: he is known for his independence and likely will not follow Pakistani orders. Further, Pakistan is now moving forces from Swat and will have at least one extra division, if not more, to move into North Waziristan to supplement the seven division troops based there. If debate in the Pakistan military high command continues over what to do about Haqqani, it is possible that military action may occur. But the sorry state of U.S.-Pakistani relations may affect the timetable adversely. Among other things, the Pakistanis will be looking for signs of U.S. troop movement into the regional command opposite North Waziristan to indicate U.S. resolve to take on Haqqani in his own territory with more than just Special Forces. U.S. success may embolden the Pakistanis to act against Haqqani. But they will also be watching what happens in the overall allied effort in Afghanistan after this summer’s deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal.

Meanwhile, Pakistan faces a more serious problem in the hinterland. There is no evidence of a strategy to take on the Sunni militants that are fighting the state nor outward-facing groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba. Even if Afghanistan settles down, Pakistan faces a long war for which it is not fully prepared. The result may be continuing instability inside Pakistan and creeping radicalization may become a reality in society at large and perhaps even infect the military over time. In nuclear-armed Pakistan, this may pose a regional and global threat to peace and stability. Pakistan needs to begin this fight at home. If it takes the first steps, the world may be able to help it. The alternative is unimaginable.

Really? Suppose Pakistan were just to state the obvious: the Tribal Areas which it is incapable of exerting sovereignty over are not part of the nation and the military will no longer try to force them to be. Not only would the rump state of Pakistan be more stable but the tribes and groups within the Tribal Areas would be reduced to a fight amongst themselves over who gets to run what portion of the territories. This collapse of violence inwards would not only make it easier for central governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan to get on with life but the eventual winners in the Tribal Areas would render themselves easy targets for military strikes should they fail to restrain violence directed outwards.

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Posted by at May 10, 2011 5:32 AM

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